Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am deeply conscious of the signal honour it is to be asked to open this 20th conference of the South African Indian Congress, and I wish to thank you for the gesture. The Congress meets today at the zero hour of our national life as the black and despised inhabitants of this subcontinent.
Like dumb animals we have for years meekly stood still while we have been haltered and bound, and we have submissively bowed to the dull yoke of men who are nothing else than robbers and villains, traitors to the highest and noblest teachings of the Christianity which they so blatantly profess, men shockingly contemptuous of their conscience and their God, and now in a frenzy of self-adulation preparing to embrace each other and shake their bloody hands in commemoration of their three hundred years of rapine and bloodshed, and ready to commence another evil era of piracy and oppression.
It is right and fitting, as you meet in Conference under these conditions, to remember the salient, the dominant fact of South African history, namely that all the monuments, all the celebrations and all the feasts of the white man have a diametrically opposite meaning to the black man, because every monument of the white man perpetuates the memory of the annihilation of some black community, every celebration of victory the remembrance of our defeat, his every feast means our famine and his laughter our tears. Such are the Great Trek celebrations and the Voortrekker Monument; such are Dingaan's Day, Kruger Day and Union Day, and such the approaching Van Riebeeck celebrations.
Let us prepare ourselves, therefore, to behave accordingly during these months, and not be carried away like chaff before the wind,
Nor hold a candle to our shame and sorrow,
Nor flatter the rank breath of white South Africa,
Nor bow our knee to their idolatries,
Nor coin our cheek to their smiles,
Nor shout in worship of their echo .
But rather, let these sad memorials of our misfortunes spur us to gird our loins in earnest determination to reverse the dismal and tragic history of past years.
It is gratifying to note the faint glimmer of a common consciousness and the efforts at self-criticism, however meager they still are, among the unprivileged and oppressed peoples of South Africa and the corresponding desire to throw off the shackles that have bound us so long, and a determination among us to stretch our arms and partake of the God-given fruit of life and liberty. Too long have we ourselves been the blind instruments of our undoing and the fashioners of our own degradation by our petty squabbles and disunity.
Ever since the earliest contact of the white man with Africans three hundred years ago, he has succeeded, beyond his wildest dreams in dispossessing them of their land, their liberty and their life, and ever since the meeting of the white man and the Indians, with the coming of the latter at the special behest of the European, he has regularly made harsh laws for the restriction of the Indian people.
To all this catalogue of political crimes committed against us in the form of discriminatory legislation, it is true that our separate groups have each protested individually by all constitutional methods, but still always with a remarkable display of super-human patience and slavish timidity and with never an idea of uniting their forces in a common platform of protest.
Some excuse might be pleaded for one Non-European group's apathy and ignorance of the conditions, disabilities and sufferings of another non-European group prior to the Union. For instance the Natal disenfranchisement of Indians in 1896, and the several anti-Indian Immigration Acts of Natal and the Transvaal in 1905 and 1907 might be said to be matters that concerned and are therefore hitherto only known to Indians, just as the anti-African land and labour laws of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were peculiar worries of the Africans concerned.
But to think that the Union of South Africa, with its cynical provisions excluding all people of colour from the legitimate enjoyment of political rights was framed before our eyes, and no worthwhile united action was taken against the Act by Non-European groups is staggering. We looked on with equanimity as people dazed and paralyzed, much as donkeys and cattle look at a train approaching to destroy them. Year after year, Draconic differential legislation was enacted, whittling down to nothingness the meager rights that had been left to us, and still we did not lift our finger in united protest. Now it was the African that was robbed and ruined by such enactments as the Natives Land Act (1913), Native Service Contract Act (1934) and Native Representation Act (1936), and now it was the Indian that was insulted and coerced by such legislation as the Immigration Regulation Act (1913), the Trading and Occupation of Land Restriction (Pegging) Act (1943), or the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation (Ghetto) Act (1946), and now it is the Eur-African--the Coloured man--that having been first inveighed into the belief that because he is a surreptitious product of the white man's loins he will be accorded all the political rights and privileges of a European, now (he) is treacherously undermined and served with a Coloured Representation Act (1951).
Some sort of excuse might even now still be pleaded for our indolence and selfishness that while these things happened to one or another Non-European group the others looked on passively or even contentedly to see it submerged by the steadily advancing tide of white exploitation and domination, little realising that it was their turn next to be similarly submerged.
All that, I say, may still be condoned. But what excuse can anyone find for the whole Non-European population acquiescing in the principle of differential legislation, with its Colour Bar Acts, Pass Laws, Group Areas Acts and ComÂmunal Representation Acts and other such diabolical laws which affect and restrict all the Non-European groups together? What excuse can there be, now, when the white man, the European of South Africa has been unmasked in his political dishonesty, and stands condemned before the conscience and bar of the world for his utter contempt of the value and dignity of human rights and human personality and fundamental freedoms?
With characteristic tolerance we have waited patiently and hoped in vain for a change of heart among the rulers. Now we see that the white man's insatiable appetite for power, kingdom and glory has grown by what it has fed upon, and his political piracy will know no bounds until we bestir ourselves, stand up to bar his progress and say "Thus far and no further." Can we say that with one voice and as one organic being?
The spate of vicious, repressive and differential legislation which successive Parliaments and Governments seem to vie with each other in dishing out--are we for ever going to sit and stupidly look on while these laws are enforced to crush us?
My friends, if we have any right to life and liberty, let us prove it right now before the year 1952 is older. We have the power, but do not realise it. We have the means. We carry the weapons within us, and none can rob us of them.
The efforts that have been made recently by some of our far-seeing men to bring about mutual esteem, friendship and collaboration between the different groups of oppressed peoples, between the Indian, the African and the Eur-Airican or Coloured people, cannot be too highly commended, and I hope that each member of these groups represented here today, each and every one in this hall will go forth as an inspired missionary to bring about the consummation of that unity so highly to be desired--to implement the plan of defiance of unjust laws, which has already been adopted by the conference of the African National Congress and which I have no doubt this conference will consider Very seriously. For I am persuaded that so long as the white man can succeed in making us believe that our interests and destinies are antagonistic, incompatible or even distinct, so long will he succeed, as he has thus far succeeded in destroying us one by one. On the contrary, if we fully realise, as we should, the identity of our lot and combine to do relentless battle for our legitimate and common rights of life and liberty, we shall save ourselves and our children, and no power on earth can prevent our success.
One of the leading prophets of the modern world has passionately cried out'' Workers of the world, Unite." Earnestly I call upon you, sons and daughters of Africa and India--Unite. Passionately I call upon you men and women of colour--Unite. Prayerfully, I call upon you Coloureds, Africans and Indians-Unite.